Electric Shock Hazards
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Electric Shock Hazards

No one needs an introduction to Electricity. This is a part of our life. But how many of us understand it properly, how can we protect ourselves from the risks of electrical shock and how can we conserve the energy? May be many people are not aware of its potentials and risks.

Like light, electricity is also a form of energy. It is a type of energy which is due to the movement of electrons which are negatively charged particles of an atom. According to the law of conservation of energy, energy can neither be created nor be destroyed. Energy in one form is converted to another form. Accordingly we get electricity from primary sources of energy like coal, oil, natural gas as well as nuclear power. We also produce electrical energy from waterfalls (mechanical energy to electrical energy) and sunlight (solar power from light energy). We also produce electricity from chemical reactions like in the case of wet and dry batteries.

There are two types of electric current we are dealing with in our daily life. The Direct Current (DC) which we normally get in batteries and torch cells and the Alternating Current (AC) which is used in all household as well as industrial equipments and lighting. There are lot of differences between these two and it is good to know how they are different and what hazards we may face from these two types of electric currents.

The constant current produced by a constant voltage, that flows through a circuit only in one direction is normally known as the Direct Current. Your mobile phone, torch light, portable radio etc are all powered by the direct current by way of dry cells or rechargeable batteries. Many devices work on different voltage levels varying from 1.5 Volts to over 50 Volts. The standard voltage of a Dry Cell is 1.5 Volts. Though we can have higher voltage levels for DC, it is handled in lower voltage levels.

The Alternating Current on the contrary has a voltage going up from zero to a positive peak value, comes back to zero and then goes to the same amount of negative peak value – this process repeats a number of times in a second. The wave form of a direct current is a Square Wave and that of an alternating current is Sinusoidal Wave (Sine Wave). Thus the alternating current alternates between a positive peak and a negative peak and therefore it has a frequency expressed as Cycles-Per-Second (CPS) and measured in Hertz. There are two Frequency standards for the AC current – 60 Hz as per the North American standards and 50 Hz for the rest of the world standard. The American standard for AC Voltage is 110 Volts and others 240 Volts though it may vary from 100-120 Volts and 220-240 Volts. So, we are talking about much more powerful current in AC.

When the power is more, the risk is more. We know that these currents are not safe always as many of us would have got electric shocks one way or the other. Static Current which is also a Direct Current, is also powerful enough to give us electrical shocks. Static Current is easily produced by rubbing plastic or Rubber and we can see these charged media can lift small paper particles.

The electrical shock produced by AC and DC are opposite in nature. AC, by its nature gives us a repulsive shock and DC gives us an attractive shock. So, a person receiving an electric shock from an alternating current will get thrown away from the source of current and the other one pulls the person towards the source of current. The minimum current a person can withstand depends upon the type of the current and the frequency of the current. When a person receives an electrical shock, it can damage the tissues and this is called as fibrillation. Fibrillation can lead to serious conditions like cardiac arrest. The normal household power supply (AC) which is between 110 and 230 Volts passes through our chest for a fraction of a second; it can cause a ventricular fibrillation – which is an uncoordinated contraction of our cardiac muscles – which can in turn lead to cardiac arrest. The current may be as low as 50 to 60mA. In the case of DC to produce the same effect, current of about 350 to 500mA will be required.

When someone receives repeated electrical shocks, his heart and lungs are possibly affected. There may be damages caused to the nervous system. If the current passes through the head then the person may lose consciousness. Electrical shocks create physical injuries as well by way of burns.

The seriousness of the shock depends upon the current that flows through our body, the duration of the passage of current, the path through which it travels and the frequency of the alternating current etc. At very high voltages, it is possible to have severe burns.

But how do we get electric shock? Our body by nature of which conducts electricity and when there is a voltage difference between two points in a circuit, the electric current flows from the point at high voltage to the point at low voltage. Here the point of high voltage is the source of the electric current with which we are in contact and the point of low voltage is ground or earth which is considered to be at zero volts. Our body acts as a conductor of electricity. If we are not directly in contact with the ground or point of lower voltage – means we are wearing rubber slippers or we are standing on a block of dry wood we are minimizing or even preventing the flow of electricity through our body and we do not get a shock. So take these precautions.

• Always protect yourselves by wearing insulating materials such as rubber gloves before you start working on open electrical contacts or electrical gadgets.

• Electrical appliances, switches, wires and other materials must be of high quality. With poor quality materials, possibilities of risk of short circuits as well as electric leakage are more. So even if you have to pay a little more, get materials of high quality

• Try to Switch Off the main supply wherever possible and do not attempt to carry out any work yourselves which you do not know. Hire a qualified and experienced electrician

• Never try to short circuit the Phase (Live Wire) and the Neutral lines. This will result in spark and chances of electric shock. The main supply will be cut off if there is a Circuit Breaker or Fuse engaged in the circuit. This goes equally well with the Phase and Earth points also. You can identify these points by the letters L, N and E on a Plug Socket or Plug Top

• Keep all unused Plug sockets closed so that children do not try to put their fingers or any other objects into the sockets

• Never touch any electrical appliances or wires with wet hand. Pure water is not a good conductor of electricity. But what is pure water then? Water that we normally use is a conductor and we may be exposed to electrical shock touching with wet objects

• If there are any wires or electrical points exposed with the cable strands or contacts, get them insulated, replaced or covered immediately

• While using an immersion heater, hot plate and iron box make sure that they are safe to use and do not leak. Also wherever possible the outer metal body should always be properly earthed by connecting with a three core cable, the Green one of which connected to the earth point

• The earth wire in your building may be defective and leaky over a period of time. Conduct periodical checks to ensure proper earth

• Provide electronic circuit breakers of required capacity to protect from surge currents and overloads as well as leakages. All the modern apartments, villas and even industrial installations are fitted with circuit breakers and overload protection devices

• Use Industrial Grade materials wherever required when you work with high power industrial equipments

• Never overload a circuit by attaching more than the capacity of an outlet or circuit so that the cables and other components do not get over heated and burn. This could create serious accidents like fire and/or loss of life in many cases

• Do not try to alter the wiring yourselves because the electrical engineers would have taken care to balance the load on various circuits and you doing so will disturb the balancing. This will result in overload in some circuits

There are many more to mention. But we shall look at them as well as ways to conserve energy in the next article.


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